I make a point of not watching the Democratic debates—they’re simply too stressful for my system. I fear the yelling and name calling, there’s usually not much to learn anyway, and we have to be positioned to fry those bigger fish come November. Thursday was the same, but I’d had the TV on mute, just in case. And—this is critical—my brave friend Jamie, who does gird her loins and watch, texts throughout to keep me updated. When she texted that they were moving on to Israel/Palestine, the sound went on.
A moment not to be missed. Sanders:
“There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.”
So obvious as to be banal, you say? Not in this context, when a candidate for president from one of the two major parties finally talks about justice and peace during a prime-time national debate—and then doesn’t back down. It’s unprecedented: as many in the audience cheered him on as cheered for Hillary.
Let’s be clear: no political candidate—not Democrat, not Republican—has ever ventured into this zone during a campaign for such high office. The article today by Jason Horowitz in the New York Times nails it, writing that Sanders said that Israel had
“every right in the world to destroy terrorism.” “But,” he said, “we had in the Gaza area — not a very large area — some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed.” [And he stood by his use of the word “disproportionate.”]
The applause and cheers that accompanied Mr. Sanders’s answers — someone yelled “Free Palestine!” — might have been the most vocal signs yet of shifts in the Democratic Party.
In a sense, Hillary’s pathetic blubbering of all the tired talking points is as much emblematic of the collapse of the ancien régime among Democrats as Bernie’s talk of justice and peace. There she was saying it was all Arafat’s fault for nixing the “holy Barak offer” (as Tamar used to call it), a self-serving, long ago discredited theory advanced by Bill C. and the Israelis. Or that Israel turned over the keys to Gaza in 2005– “They turned the keys over to the Palestinian people”– so they could have had a great little state. There’s she’s channeling Thomas Friedman’s nonsense that Gaza could have been a little Singapore once Gaza was no longer occupied (and had “the keys,” as Hillary put it so succinctly). It’s true that Gaza is no longer colonized in the technical sense, because in 2005 Sharon dismantled the settlements and removed the settlers, who had been a great burden on Israel. (And without the settlers in Gaza, Israel is free to bomb to its heart’s content.)
But Gaza is as occupied as ever. And Hillary’s vocabulary doesn’t include the word “occupied.”
The bottom line: even before the debate and before this presidential campaign, unease over Israeli policies within the Democratic Party was rising. As Peter Beinart is quoted in the Times article, which is titled “Criticizing Israel, Bernie Sanders Highlights Split Among Jewish Democrats”:
“What Bernie said last night, and the crowd’s response, were a sign of things to come.”
And the Friends of the Israeli Occupation know it.
Eliot Engel, Democratic congressman from the Bronx, resorted to the desperate old name-calling, labeling Bernie’s comments, “disgraceful and reprehensible.” Further, Horowitz writes,
Andy Bachman, a prominent Brooklyn progressive rabbi [but not really all that progressive], said the energetic applause at Mr. Sanders’s criticism of Israel “spoke to this growing rift in the Democratic Party — it was proof of a major crisis in the Jewish community that no major Jewish organization has resolved or figured out to handle.”
Some advice to those, including the liberal Zionists like Rabbi Bachman, who are wringing their hands over “how to handle” the crisis: as long as you view the crisis as something to be solved by hiring a better PR agency and writing some new talking points, you’ll never be able to “handle” it.
Let me channel Bill Clinton on this one: it’s about the policies, Stupid.
So yes, the change in public opinion in this country has been glacial, but it’s happening. Sanders actually spoke truths—and here’s the crux of it: he will live to tell. That’s the news. A lot of Democrats and younger Americans in general, including many Jews, are breaking out of the old stranglehold. And the Democratic old guard, slow on the uptake, needs to take note: AIPAC is essentially a Republican organization. There are those who say Bernie could afford to do this because he’s going to lose the primary in New York anyway. Who cares? He had to think it first. And then he had to say it. And he did.